A Place Further than the Universe is not your typical “cute-girls-doing-cute-things” anime, and thank goodness! Sure, the four protagonists are cute teen girls, but that is where the similarities with the genre end. Instead, A Place Further than the Universe is a coming-of-age story in which Mari Tamaki, Shirase Kobuchizawa, Hinata Miyake, and Yuzuki Shiraishi learn about themselves (and of course, friendship) during an expedition to Antarctica.
While Mari, Hinata, and Yuzuki all have great character development, Shirase’s narrative stuck with me. The writers made her a character full of contradictions: stoic looks, but full of emotions. She’s super stubborn, but only until she catches a glimpse of penguins. I love her character because she’s an ordinary, realistic girl who will stop at nothing to achieve the extraordinary.
For as long as I’ve been a fan of anything, I’ve been a fan of Star Wars. I have vivid memories of sitting on a friend’s couch watching The Empire Strikes Back and being completely immersed in the experience.
Princess Leia was my favorite character. She was a girl just like I was, and she was snarky, had great hair, and did everything the boys did. Years before I had ever heard of fanfiction, I was mentally writing elaborate adventures for Leia as she repeatedly saved the universe in increasingly spectacular (and improbable) ways.
I have a pretty established preference for the serious when it comes to T.V. drama. (TGIT, anyone?) However, one night, about a year ago, in a room-cleaning daze, I happened upon the silliest, most light-hearted, and most romance-novel romantic series I know of: Jane the Virgin. It’s the opposite of everything I’ve come to expect from a binge-worthy dramatic T.V. series and yet, I love it.
Jane the Virgin is about a woman, Jane, who, in the midst of finishing school, getting engaged, and suddenly reuniting with her long-lost superstar father, is accidentally artificially inseminated. The premise is loosely based on a Venezuelan telenovela, Juana la Virgen, and is a jarring but captivating juxtaposition of telenovela tropes and real characters and problems. The drama is decadent, the writing is masterful, and the characters are hilarious, but that’s not the reason I will recommend the show to anyone and everyone. That’s not what has caused me to write not one but two academic papers analyzing the story’s development. I love Jane the Virgin because I love Jane.
It’s dark in space. Cold. And after a while, it’s a job just like any other. This is the world we are dropped into at the beginning of Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi/horror masterpiece, Alien.
Through voyeuristic cinematography, we’re introduced to the crew of the Nostromo. There is nothing glamorous about this version of space. Their jobs seem something akin to long-haul trucking, and their living quarters are about as clean. They make small talk, give and receive orders, and generally look bored. Of course, that all changes when they run into an alien species.
I’d love to wax poetic about the incredibly tense, bare-bones script of Alien that follows, but that’s not my focus for today.
My focus is warrant officer, Ellen Ripley (played with femininity and strength by Sigourney Weaver). She is one of the best examples of a truthful female character to date.
From the first moment she appears on screen she is treated with an equality rarely afforded women in film. She is shot with the same camera angles and lighting as everyone else. She wears no makeup because a person performing a job such as hers would not be wearing any. Her uniform is the same cut and fit as the rest of the crew. Nothing about her is highlighted in a stereotypical leading lady fashion. She’s just one of the crew.
The story moves forward as the characters struggle to make sense of the creature threatening their every move. Ripley fights, second-guesses, and makes mistakes along with the rest of the crew, but she is never treated differently because she is a woman. Certainly, she is strong, but she is notjust strong. She is frightened, flawed, intelligent, and most importantly, human. Her strength comes from her resilience in the face of being imperfect.
Ripley finally prevails over the creature, but not before being forced to give up everything, even (temporarily) the atmosphere in her escape pod. Her desire to survive is found in all of us. It’s coated in humanity’s DNA. It knows no gender. It is singular in its pursuit.
It is worth pointing out that the character was originally written with a man in mind. That piece of information gives the idea of strong female characters a whole new perspective. The character of Ellen Ripley is competent, real, and entirely female. This is because she is presented to us that way.
Armed with this simple behind-the-scenes knowledge we are given the most blaring example of gender-as-construct. Ellen Ripley identifies as female, so the actions she takes are viewed as female. Having strong, complex, emotionally alive female characters is as simple as focusing more on the character’s desires and actions and less on their presented gender.
Who we are is determined by what we do. When we create female characters with this focus in mind, they will be filled with all the tenacious strength humanity has to offer.
I have a hearty admiration for well-written female villains. Hearty, I say, because it is a severe, bountiful, and vigorous admiration, but also because they still seem to be few and far between. While female protagonists are progressively growing in rank, it’s sad to see the nurses from Silent Hill on more “Top Tens” than characters with actual dialogue. It’s not that we totally lack woman antagonists, but we do lack a variety that have believable backstories, relevant motives, and some good TLC from the good ol’ writers. There is a place for leotards and sultry walk cycles, but they still need to fit into some sort of justified environment and have at least a smidgen of narrative integrity.
Ann Uland, Emily Willis and Cat Batka are the creative squad behind Cassius, a new comic series that depicts Ancient Rome as a wonderfully diverse place, and with a driving story of political intrigue and loads of strong female characters. We’ve reviewed Issue 1 here, and Issue 2 here. Issue 3 comes out in March 2016.
They took a little time out to have a chat with us at GeekGirlCon about Justin Trudeau, their favorite books, and making their own comic company!
L to R: Ann, Emily, Cat. Photo provided by Emily Willis and Ann Uland
Tell me a little about yourselves and Arbitrary Muse Comics. How did you come up with the idea for making your own publication?
Ann Uland: We first met online because I started drawing things for a story Emily was writing. When we started dating, it was pretty natural for us to start coming up with stories we wanted to tell together and comics is the perfect marriage of writing and art for us.
Emily Willis: Arbitrary Muse evolved as a small comics company to encapsulate what we do when we sell our own self-published work and help to distribute other webcomics in print as well. Cassius is our latest project because Julius Caesar is my favorite Shakespearean play and I wanted to work on something inspired by it.
I’ll admit, I haven’t watched the last season of Parks and Recreationyet. I keep putting it off because the longer the episodes stay unwatched, the better I can convince myself that it isn’t over yet. Because Parks & Rec not only has (not had! We’re not in past tense yet!) the best ensemble cast TV has seen in years, but it also boasts the best lady role model I’ve ever seen in primetime.
When Parks & Rec first debuted in 2009, it seemed almost rote to compare it to the other workplace mockumentary airing at the time: The Office. But where Steve Carrell’s Michael Scott is incompetent, irritating and whiny, Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope is determined, friendly, caring, devoted, feminist, and strong—and I want to be just like her when I grow up.
When most people think of South Park, I doubt that feminism comes to mind. For years, the satirical show has been best known for its crude humor and irreverent catchphrases. To me, though, one of the most impressive elements of its ongoing eighteen-year run is the development of Wendy Testaburger’s character.
Foul-mouthed. Dirty-minded. Hot-tempered and hell-raising. These terms describe many of my closest friends — so it’s only fitting I liked Alana of the comic book series Saga from the very first panel.
Published by the prolific Image Comics, Saga is an ongoing series written by award-winning Brian K. Vaughan, and gloriously illustrated by Fiona Staples. It showcases the love story of Alana and Marko — a couple reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, but with literal stars crossing to foil their relationship. Alana is a winged creature from the planet Landfall, while Marko is from Landfall’s moon, Wreath, whose residents boast horns or antlers. The two celestial bodies are wrapped up in a ceaseless war so large, even citizens of surrounding galaxies get drawn in, though they have little to nothing to gain.
Realizing the fight’s absolute pointlessness after his first battle as a soldier, Marko surrenders to Landfall as a “conscientious objector.” While in prison, Alana is stationed as his guard, and the two bond over Alana’s favorite book — a romance novel rife with anti-war symbolism — and their disdain for the feuding between their homelands.
When Alana learns Marko is to be transferred to a confinement center for life, she spontaneously breaks his chains, and the two flee together, conceive a child, and quickly get married. Talk about love on the run!
As the unlikely trio is chased through space by family members, foes, and political forces, this epic story only gets wilder and more addicting — as does the intense personality of Alana. When it comes to protecting her child, Hazel, she is aggressive with a bone-chilling calm. In one scene, for example, a character attempts to kidnap Hazel for a financial reward, and Alana’s reaction is to put a gun to her own baby’s head, threatening to kill her to save her from a life of slavery. Almost every relationship Alana ends up enjoying — with her in-laws, Hazel’s babysitter, and Marko himself — begins with her being violent in order to protect herself or her loved ones. I admire these warrior-woman actions and attitudes because they occur out of necessity, not sick pleasure. (Most of the time, anyway!)
Another aspect of Alana I admire are her two favorite hobbies: reading books and having sex. Her passion for books is as voracious as her libido, and she’s not afraid to express either interest. You know that sick myth that women can’t be both sexually active and smart? Alana blows it out of the water without a second thought. In the same breath, she can express a cunning assessment of dangerous situations and her fierce desire to get it on with Marko. And she does it all with wit and unapologetic sarcasm — now that’s someone I want to hang out with.
Given her strong opinions and fiery feelings, Alana does have her faults, of course. She’s fitfully jealous over an ex-girlfriend of Marko’s, and is often detrimentally stubborn. My view, though, is that rather than making her emotionally unstable, these internal challenges actually help her become stronger, as she attempts to rein in her reactions for the sake of her family. Her jealousy isn’t petty, but born of justified concern, since Marko originally hid his past relationship, knowing the ex wasn’t exactly cool with the way things ended. Alana’s temperament isn’t tied to an affinity for drama, but is rather a result of the worlds she’s always inhabited. Her life has consisted of fight-or-flight situations over and over, and as a damn good combatant, she’s developed hair-trigger methods that help her stay alive.
On the flip side, Alana is a hopeless romantic at heart, and has so much compassion for the underdog it could fuel a solar system. She’s constantly scrutinizing individuals around her and frequently gives them the benefit of the doubt, so long as they’re not messing with her kin. Thanks to her volatile dedication, proud sexual prowess, love of books, and hilarious quips, Alana reads like a intriguing, intricate universe. The series is still being created and released, so who knows — she could totally end up disappointing us in the end — but for now, I’m rooting for this winged woman for sure.
If you’ve read any issues of Saga, what do you think of Alana’s disposition? Who is one of your favorite strong female characters in comics?